Scientific American’s unscientific call for federal homeschooling standards

Science magazine Scientific American has recently called for federal homeschooling regulations, stating that without top-down, national mandates on homeschoolers, “an untold number of U.S. children are at risk of a poor education or even abuse.” But the editorial’s reasoning to justify increased government regulations doesn’t make the case.

The article presents similar concerns Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet raised in 2020 when she called for a ban on homeschooling, arguing that families who homeschool violate children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right “to be protected from potential child abuse.”

First, any instance of child abuse is awful and unacceptable. But suggesting “that homeschooling inherently facilitates abuse is misleading,” writes Connor Boyack with The Tuttle Twins. It presupposes the existence of a grievous problem and conflates thousands of innocuous homeschooling families with the few outliers.

It also assumes that a traditional classroom setting is inherently safer because it is regulated, continues Boyack. Shockingly, the U.S. Department of Education has estimated that one in 10 children will experience sexual misconduct by a school employee by the time they graduate from high school. A 2017 case study on the topic reported that 93 percent of incidents occurred in public schools. A 2022 study by Sage Journals found that 11.7 percent of surveyed high school graduates in four states — 6,632 participants — reported experiencing at least one form of educator sexual misconduct during their K-12 education.

Other safety issues include physical, aggressive behavior from students aimed at other students and teachers and widespread bullying. According to a 2019 National Center for Education Statistics survey, “concern about the school environment” was selected most often as a reason parents chose to homeschool.

Second, the majority of peer-reviewed studies on academic achievement reveal “a positive effect for the homeschooled students compared to institutional schooled students.” Data from the National Home Education Research Institute also shows that homeschoolers regularly outperform their public school peers on standardized tests and in college performance.

The Scientific American editorial’s call for homeschool reporting requirements to demonstrate learning “is a pretty brazen request given that in the federal government’s own backyard of Washington, D.C., only about one-third of public school students are reading at or above grade level, and only 22 percent are performing at or above grade level in math,” points out Kerry McDonald, senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

“Beyond the obvious point that there is no constitutional role for the federal government in education, the proposal for top-down, national mandates on homeschoolers assumes that the government knows best when it comes to education,” McDonald continues. “Perhaps those who think the government knows best on education should work on improving government-run schools rather than coming after the millions of homeschooling families choosing something different.”